Chrysalis: a preparatory or transitional state

I look into my tea leaves and what I choose to see is the life of a writer. A quiet house by the sea or in the country, a child playing in the living room, a husband editing in the study or rehearsing for an audition, and me in a nook with a computer diving deep into other worlds. In Maui we dove down to 120 feet at Molokini Crater—the deepest we’ve ever gone. I swam at the bottom of the sea with eagle rays and octopus, but writing feels deeper. In a marathon writing session the real world melts away and suddenly I am through the sea, on an adventure with Niguel, Iris, and Gus, trying to escape the vengeful Callum before he gets to Iris’ father, Peter Applegate.

94fac0ae1d47570c0ffb191c99cf4bc8You have no idea what I’m talking about, I know. These are characters in my book. They’ve become close friends of mine, and I know they feel neglected.

Nymphalidae_-_Danaus_plexippus_ChrysalisThe neglect is making my wings hurt. I feel them pushing hard against the chrysalis that has protected them for 32 years, and if they don’t make it out soon the bones will break. I know this to be true, so why am I making it so hard to break free?

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In writing the first draft of my novel, several challenges emerged, one of which was knowing when to finish a chapter. Often, it was clear. The chapter finished itself and I sailed on into the next. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I’d want to stay in a chapter for reasons that were perhaps unclear, but what was clear is that I knew it was going on too long. The third chapter of my novel was such a one. I kept writing and writing, knowing that nothing about the chapter was helping to move the story along. I loved the characters in the chapter. I found the action of the chapter humorous and charming (if I do say so myself), even though I knew it was irrelevant to the ultimate motor of the book. In my heart I knew I should end it, perhaps even cut out the whole thing, but I liked it too much. It was comfortable. It was clever (if I do say so myself) and it had the desired effect of distracting me from making the book truly great.

I wonder if I’m a bit stuck now, in my life, spending precious time in a chapter that is comfortable and full of clever characters. It’s hard to know when to move on.

That’s not true, I suppose. Knowing is the easy part. It’s the moving on that is hard.

1af9d0cd9c6a6ed51e786e33437282b6Growing up makes moving from chapter to chapter effortless in a sense, because the pages were turned for me. I was born. I started school. I twirled baton. I survived middle school. I went to high school. I got into college. I studied in London. I graduated from college. I moved to L.A. The outline was all there, and then—suddenly—the outline stopped. Suddenly it was up to me to structure the chapters. I’ve done pretty well so far. Chapter 10: Rebecca gets a job. Chapter 11: Rebecca joins a theatre company. Chapter 12: Rebecca gets married. Chapter 13: Rebecca works at jobs and produces plays and spends a lot of time on Facebook and watching Netflix.

Chrysalis Emerging 3In revising the third draft of my book, I got wise and removed the chapter that was gumming up the action, but I didn’t delete it. I moved it to my “Some other time” folder. I’ll bet the characters and the very humorous dialogue (if I do say so myself) will appear in a future book, but they will only find their right place and time if I let go of them for now.

My wings hurt. Soon, very soon, I need to decide how important it is for me to fly because wings can break and wilt. Of course I know how I feel. Flying is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do. If there is a heaven, I know it involves flying.

monarch-in-flight-1024x576It’s time to write the next chapter. Like a mystery shape on the horizon, I’m not sure yet if it’s a ship, a whale, a lighthouse, an island? Time to grab Brad’s hand (Brad is in every chapter you see), and swim out there to find out. Time to let go of this chapter that I’m in—turn the page. Come back perhaps “Some other time.”

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Chapter 14: Rebecca, author 

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Opening My Eyes to the Good

Santa Monica recently implemented pedestrian-exclusive traffic lights throughout the downtown area. That means that both directions have red lights for vehicles, while pedestrians are given the green light to cross diagonally or otherwise, totally free from traffic. It was done with the intention of strengthening pedestrian safety and to relieve traffic congestion—the logic being that if cars turning right and left don’t have to wait for pedestrians to cross on a green light, they will move through the intersection quicker and traffic will back-up less. The logic makes sense and it works, but only if everyone participates. If just one person ignores the signs that say “Cross on WALK signal ONLY,” then the cars have to wait anyway and traffic is now actually going to be worse because they are back to waiting for pedestrians on their light and they still have to wait through the thirty-second pedestrian signal where no cars can move. It only works if we all participate.

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I don’t understand people who don’t get this. The truth is, I think they get it; the problem is they just don’t care. Their needs as an individual to get to their destination literally thirty seconds earlier, outweigh the needs of their community, which is trying to make walking safer and driving easier. Awesome. Well done, asshats. This seemingly trivial instance makes me burn with a shocking rage. Shocking. Red hot.

Since I’ve worked in Santa Monica this has enraged me daily, because it happens with regularity. Pedestrians ignore the signs, ignore the rules, and the system fails. Then one day I decided to look at things differently, mostly for my own sanity but also sort of as a test. I stood at the intersection, waiting for the pedestrian green light, watching a numbskull cross on the traffic light, making the oncoming cars wait, and instead of cursing that person, I looked around me. There was one person breaking the rule, but there were thirty people following it.

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At all four corners of the intersection of Broadway and 2nd, at least thirty to forty people did not cross on the green traffic light; they waited for the walk signal. Even when the dipstick outlier broke the law, most did not follow. They made the choice that was better for everyone. They did the right thing.

This shift in perspective—choosing how I look at a situation—brought me immeasurable relief. It is a mundane example of a larger truth. Most people are good. Most people do the right thing, and if I only focus on those who don’t then I let those jerks win. Most people care about their neighbor, their community, and the greater good. Becky, you have been so focused on the one negative individual that you failed to see the dozens who actually do care about walking more safely and helping alleviate traffic congestion for their neighbor. Or even if they don’t think about those things as much as you do, they know how to follow the frickin’ law and that’s something. There are more of us than there are selfish nutwipes halting progress.

There will always be that one clown walking into the intersection. We’ll always see that one bastard who cares more about himself no matter the cost to everyone else. Sometimes that intersection is a big one—a national stage. But there are more of us.

Open your eyes, look around, and say hello. So many good ones. Thank God.

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Day of the Cubs

Exactly one month ago, on October 2, Brad and I wandered into the Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica. One of my favorite things about L.A. is how often one can stumble upon a historic gem without even trying; like reading a book that has those peek-a-boo windows that each reveal a surprise.

The Marion Davies beach house was built by William Randolph Hearst for his lady love, Ms. Davies, and is watched over by a team of volunteers who lure passersby in to the house for tours. As Brad and I peeked through the windows, we were greeted by a lovely retiree who offered to show us around the house and tell us about its history. Reluctantly (we like to do things on our own time), we agreed.

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But this is not a story about the Marion Davies beach house.

I can’t remember our tour guide’s name so let’s call her Cathy. Cathy, a blonde-haired woman of about 65, started out with niceties about where we were from.

“We live just up the beach in Venice, but I’m from Sacramento originally.”

“Yeah, and I’m from Chicago,” said Brad.

“Oh! I’m from Chicago too,” Cathy smiled, her eyes twinkling with that Chicago friendliness.

“Nice,” Brad returned the twinkly smile.

Then Cathy sighed.

“The Cubs . . .”

“They’re looking pretty good this year. Maybe they’ll finally go all the way,” I chimed in.

“Oh, I know.”

Cathy’s face washed over with a melancholy resolve.

“My dad passed away three months ago. He spent his entire life waiting for the Cubs to win the World Series. I know he would’ve liked to see them this year.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Brad said as we walked into an art-deco bathroom on the second floor.

“Yeah, he loved the Cubs.”

We finished the tour and made our way back to our bikes outside, peddling toward Venice. I never stopped thinking about Cathy and her father this entire postseason, and hoped I would be able to write down this story with a sweet ending.

Cathy, I bet last night was bittersweet. The Cubs won the World Series, and I know you were thinking about your father, gone so close to seeing his team win. With 108 years of loss, your story is not unique. Generations of devoted Cubs fans have passed through this world, waiting to see victory for their team and the soil they called home.

November 2 is Dia de los Muertos—a day to honor the dead. Through our remembrances and devotion we bring the spirits of our loved ones back to earth for a visit. The Cubs won the World Series on Dia de los Muertos, and let this give you comfort, Cathy. Fate lends a hand. Thank you Cubbies, for bringing home victory on the day of the year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. You have generations of Cubs fans, including Cathy’s father, hovering in the ether over Wrigley Field, cheering for their team.

What a ballgame.

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Lunch Break

I wait in line at the Mongolian BBQ in the food court of the mall across the street from my office. The line makes a crowded curve through the cafe, rendering the possibility of escape impossible when patience runs out and hunger turns to hanger. All I can do is wait. In the middle of the queue, I stand cramped between strangers like the noodles squished into the bottom of my bowl, waiting to be sizzled on the grill.

I glare at the chefs grilling an assembly line of vegetables and meats on a scorching metal surface just a few feet from my face. If they work at a Mongolian BBQ in the mall are they chefs or cooks? I’m sure they are chefs but I am grumpy so today they are cooks. They move slowly and it drives me insane. Don’t they care about anyone but themselves? Don’t they see the line spilling out into the food court? We are stuffed into this kiosk like corralled hogs. Cook faster.

A family has reached the front of the line. The cooks take their bowls of raw meat, vegetables, and noodles, and spill them onto the grill. There is nothing interesting about the sight of broccoli cooking, or the sizzle of beef fat melting. This is mundane, and at this point tedious—yet here is a girl of ten standing between her brother and her mother, and she cannot conceal a smile.

She grins from ear to ear, moving her hand to her face periodically in an attempt to conceal her glee. She is old enough to know that it’s no longer acceptable to find wonder in something as commonplace as standing close to a live kitchen, but she can’t help it. She is amazed. She glances up to her mom as if to say, “Isn’t this amazing? He’s cooking my food,” but only says so with her eyes. No words. She does not speak. She stares transfixed at the cooks and the grill and her broccoli.

She irritates me. I am wasting my entire lunch break standing in line at a Mongolian BBQ in a mall so that I can scarf down mediocre noodles and rush back to work, and this child has the audacity to find this situation valuable? What are you smiling at, girl? What could possibly be so interesting about a stranger cooking your lunch? Stop smiling. This is not special. I can’t wait until life takes hold of you and makes you realize that there is nothing significant about this. One day soon, you’ll rush back to work. Why are you smiling?

My thoughts steam. Everything around me and inside me is cooking. The girl has never seen anything as entertaining as the sight of this mall cook stir-frying her chicken. Oh to be a child, with time and luxuries like wonder. He swoops her food back into her bowl with a paltry flourish, and places it on her red plastic tray. Mom pays for their lunch. The wonder on her face fades into a general childish perk. They walk away to find an open table.

The cook grills my food. I do not smile or watch my broccoli darken. I stare at my phone to pass the time. I pay with a credit card. I find a table and eat as quickly as possible. I return to work.

Six o’clock arrives and I lock up my office. I am no longer angry, or hungry. I am content, and average.

Riding my bicycle home, I take a new route down Main Street. I have never taken this route before. I peddle over the freeway overpass and fix my eyes on the intersection a quarter of a mile down the road. The light is green and I think I can make it through without having to stop or slow down. I peddle as fast as possible until I can stop peddling and let gravity do the work.

I ride my bicycle downhill. The wind sweeps through my hair. The wheels tick tick tick, like they are screaming. My stomach floats up into my chest. My skin tingles as if touched by a lover.

I go fast. So fast.

Faster than ever before. There is no seat belt for this ride. No harness. Just me, my bicycle, and gravity. A moment ago and a moment from now evaporate, leaving only this. Something, a feeling, sneaks into my head through my mouth, eyes, and skin. It grabs the corners of my mouth and pulls them up into a smile. I cannot help it. I am flying.

I grin from ear to ear.

I whiz through the intersection like a falling star, and the ground levels. My bicycle slows, but I smile with abandon. I look around to see if anyone has noticed. I am a little embarrassed for smiling. I may have giggled too.

Another cyclist approaches. A commuter. His face is stoic. He has done this many times. He doesn’t care about the hill, or flying. He is late to get home. Late to bathe the kids, eat dinner, and send out the reports he didn’t get to at work. He turns to me as he passes, and I know what he is thinking. Why is she smiling?

Oh, I think. That’s why.

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Little Spirit

Every now and then someone can say the smallest thing to trigger the most sensitive nerve. It’s like a tiny paper cut right on the most delicate part of your ego and it makes your brain explode and your soul implode and your skin feel like an ill-fitting coat. They didn’t mean what they said to have such weight. But that’s what we always take for granted, isn’t it? The weight of words? We must be careful and speak considering the nerves in the cross-hairs of our words. We’re all fighting blind, and as we speak we never know when we’re going to hit one.

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But only malice, even the most diluted dose, can throw punches. You can speak anger. You can speak pain. You can speak frustration. And you can do it in such a way that will never strike the nerve of the other person, as long as you consider them. Are you opening your mouth to speak your truth, however painful, with the intent of making yourself clear and your relationship stronger? Or are you speaking to hurt? Perhaps you are annoyed. Perhaps you don’t like this person. Perhaps you find them ___(insert pejorative of choice). If you speak from that place you will strike a nerve. Eventually. It will happen. And nerves damage. The more you strike them, they damage irreparably.

But I’m just a stupid girl who cares far too much about rules and says silly things. I’m ridiculous, and trivial, and annoying in my hang-ups. I’m not cool, or sexy, or appealing in any way shape or form. I’m something to be tolerated, never invited, never welcomed. I’m put up with. I’m often forgotten, and the ways in which I combat invisibility are shallow and predictable. And unoriginal. I am a hack. I have no talent. I have nothing interesting to offer, or interesting to say. Ever. God knows I cannot write. Who do I think I am? I could stay in bed for a month and no one would mind. Some people might notice I wasn’t around, but they wouldn’t much care. I care too much about things that don’t matter. I don’t know how to hold onto someone because eventually I’m found out. How annoying I am. And fat. And weak. And did I mention annoying? I’m always found out. 

One little sentence triggered all of that for me. One phrase, said casually. All of that. Like stepping on a land mine.

It’s in there all the time you know. It’s in most of us. The scared little spirit that’s just waiting for the world to find out we’re a hack. It’s in there and it is so sensitive. And when this spirit is poked it’s usually told that it’s being too sensitive, and it probably is when weighed against the objective bluntness of the weapon, but being too sensitive is its entire purpose. This of course only causes the little spirit to feel more sensitive. And dizzy. And horrible.

Stranger still is that I’m fairly certain this sensitive little spirit is best friends with the most brilliant part of ourselves. Little spirit is a sentinel for our creativity, our ideas, our potential. He keeps the channel open, but must remain vulnerable to do so. He is a brave one. So easily wounded. I wonder at his resilience. It is not endless, I know that. Poke the nerve enough and eventually it will die to mitigate the pain. With the death of our little spirit comes the collapse of the tunnel leading to our best selves. We must be so careful with each other.

Time to go to bed and maybe cry. Crying seems to comfort my little spirit, and like a shot of Novocain, soothes the nerve.

You might be wondering who it was that said such a thing. Perhaps no one. Perhaps this entire story is made up. Perhaps. Either way, don’t worry, it wasn’t you. Or you. (Or you).

A Familiar Beast

I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.

We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?

Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.

He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.

 

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How to Twirl Baton With a Baby

In fifth grade I became a competitive baton twirler. It was fun, until I threw up in the middle of my routine at a regional competition—but that’s a story for another time. My specialty was two baton. That’s twirling two batons at once. I was the only member of my team that did two baton. You throw one baton in the air, twirl the other one under your leg then spin around a few times and catch the first. That type of thing. It was almost impossibly hard to learn, but I stuck with it and finally felt the magic click. You know the one. That click you feel when something awkward turns into something effortless. The moment your muscles remember something for the first time. Magic. Once that happened both batons glided around each other like pieces of a puzzle doing a dance. I won’t lie—it was impressive.

I guess I’ve always done a lot of things at once. I don’t even realize how many things I’m doing at any given time because the choice isn’t usually a conscious one—I just do things. A friend of mine often comments on my time management skills and how amazed she is that I do so much, and I’m always surprised to hear it. Why should I be surprised? Why don’t I see the impressive motion of all the batons I twirl at once? If asked to describe myself I would use terms like lazy, master procrastinator, laid back to a fault. But if I objectively look at my docket I must admit that I too am surprised by all that I do.

Last Monday I felt unproductive for what reason I can’t remember other than it’s become a state of being for me at this point. I always feel unproductive. I can never do enough. There’s never enough time. I paused and took inventory of what I actually had done that day and my jaw sort of fell open a little. I rehearsed for The Designated Mourner, got lunch with Brad, went grocery shopping, did some laundry, squeezed in a photo shoot for Whimsy Do, went for a three mile run, cleaned out our closet, all with time left over to veg on the couch watching Bloodline. That’s kind of a lot. So why the heck did I feel so useless?

I can’t answer that. This particular entry is not for dissecting that neurosis. This post is meant to rattle me, wag a little finger in my face and say, “You better accept that you’re good at two baton, because you’re going to have to keep juggling if you want to do the things you want to do.” I act, run, clean, and make Whimsy Dos at the same time because I like doing all of those things and the stakes are relatively low on each of them. They’re recreational and relaxing for me, so I just puzzle them together somehow and make it work. When I look at my goals that have higher stakes, I freeze.

I wrote a novel that’s desperately waiting for revisions, yet there it sits in my Dropbox, rough and sad. I have career goals that need outlining, nurturing, executing. I ignore them because they’re hard. I want to be a mother.

Here we get to the hardest puzzle piece of all.

After thinking about this rabidly for the past several weeks I feel like I can map out the next few years of my life. Once the play is open I can carve out time to write. I’m putting pen to paper when it comes to planning my career. I’m laying out the steps. Brad and I have a new savings plan in place to build our dream tiny home here in L.A. The problem is that these things happen one after the other in my grand plan.

Then there’s a baby. I can write a novel, make career moves, and build a house in some semblance of succession. Baby however? I can’t stop everything to have a baby. I also can’t wait until the above items are complete to have a baby. I’ve given myself a headache analyzing my timeline to figure out where a baby best fits, and the answer is nowhere. There is never a good time to have a baby. Maybe retirement. You’ve done the big career stuff, hopefully, and now you can just have a baby and focus on that. I guess this is why being a grandparent is so awesome.

But I’m never going to be a happily retired grandparent if I don’t take up the parenting thing first. If I want to be a mother, I’m going to have to have a baby while I’m doing something else at the same time. That’s a fact. I turn 32 in two weeks. Still viable but the clock is ticking. I don’t know how long it will take me to activate my career goals, to finish my book, to build a house. I have no idea, but I’m guessing it’s going to be more than three years and if I wait until after I’m 35 I’ll be starting a vicious game of roulette with mother nature.

There is never a perfect time to have a baby, so if you want to have a baby you have to learn two baton—or three or four baton—and hope that eventually you’ll feel that magic click. And at some point I’m sure I’ll drop all the batons but if there’s one thing I learned from my competition days you always pick that baton back up and keep going—even if you dropped the thing in a puddle of your own vomit. (I did keep going by the way. Took home 3rd place).

I’ve been so terrified of juggling high stakes items for so long that I’ve been blind to the fact that I’m actually really good at juggling. It’s just that I’ve been juggling apples. They fit nicely in a hand, they have a good weight to them, they’re kind of fun, you get to eat them after, and it’s not the end of the world if you drop them. Maybe a bruise or two but they’re just apples. Apples are simple.

I need to conjure the bravery necessary to juggle fire.

Maybe it’s time to take up fire baton.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any video of me twirling at competition. I guess that puking incident made my mom a little video shy. Check out this clip for a representative two baton routine. This girl reminds me of—well—me.